Tokyo is a massive, sprawling metropolis. There are so many twisting back alleys that by the time you’ve convinced yourself you’ve seen it all, something new has popped up back at the start of your route
Presented with this limitless variety, you could easily eat at a new restaurant every single day and never go hungry. So why did we go back to Fukugawa Tsuribune just two months after our last meal there ? Because like handguns in the US, one of their tempura bowls is so serious there’s a waiting period to get your hands on it.
Located near Kunitachi Station on the Chuo Line, roughly half an hour west of downtown Tokyo, the restaurant Fukugawa Tsuribune is famous for two things: delicious tempura, and massive portions. We stopped by to do battle with their leviathan-like tempura sea eel bowl in June, but were lured back by the chance to try their legendary kakiage bowl.
Kakiage are tempura chunks of diced vegetables such as carrots and onions, and also usually contain tiny little shrimp called sakura ebi which are eaten whole. As we mentioned before , Fukugawa Tsuribune is engaged in a never-ending bout of one-upmanship with their customers. The kakiage bowl originally came topped with just three pieces, but every time a customer finishes off the whole thing, the restaurant adds another three pieces for the next person who orders it.
Word of mouth spread, and now diners come from far and wide to take on Fukugawa Tsuribune’s kakiage bowl. Despite the dish’s popularity though, only one is served each day, thus the need to make a reservation for it about two months ahead of time.
We’d heard the kakiage bowl described as huge, gigantic, and Tyrannosaurus-sized, so despite having the attention span of a rambunctious kindergartener (it’s part of our youthful sense of whimsy, which some people find very attractive), we contacted the restaurant and threw our hat into the ring.
As the date approached, we called again to make sure they hadn’t forgotten our reservation, lest our eight weeks of nights dreaming of a mountain of tempura be in vain. Fukugawa Tsurubune’s staff, ever the professionals, assured us they hadn’t, and that they’d be waiting for us.
We arrived at the restaurant, and were shown to our seats on the tatami reed floor. Our table was already set with a large plate and containers of salt, sauce, and bonito stock, which would allow us to season each individual piece of kakiage to our liking.
Many customers who come for the kakiage bowl bring a friend, as perhaps the only thing more awkward than going to a restaurant alone is going to a restaurant alone and ordering enough food for a married couple with a few kids (some of whom have kids of their own). But while Fukugawa Tsuribune doesn’t mind if customers bring a second to their duel with the kakiage bowl, it’s only fair to extend the same courtesy to your opponent, so each person in your party is required to order a dish from the menu. Our reporter’s companion chose a rice bowl with minced tuna and salmon roe, which is plenty big enough for a meal by itself, yet dwarfed by the kakiage bowl.
After a short wait, the restaurant’s owner approached our table, her graceful steps belying the massive quantity of food she was carrying. The kakiage bowl is so huge we’re not sure it can really be classified as a rice bowl. “Bowl” usually implies the contents are inside, but the kakiage wasn’t so much sticking out of the receptacle as burying it.
The rumors we’d heard describing it as a mountain of tempura were also a little different than the reality placed in front of us, which did such a thorough job of blocking the view ahead that we feel it’s more accurate to call it a wall. We didn’t have our surveying equipment with us, but we’d estimate its height at somewhere around 35 centimeters (13.8 inches). You could say it’s a child-sized serving, in the sense that the serving is the size of a small child.
We did a quick count and found our order contained 42 pieces of kakiage. Remember, Fukugawa Tsuribune adds three pieces every time someone cleans their plate, which means that one of our predecessors actually polished off 39.
Before we started, the owner explained that there is a new time limit of 40 minutes for customers to eat the kakiage bowl in. Previously, some diners filled themselves up, then loitered around until they got hungry again, tying up tables that could be used for other customers. Less appetizing are the tales of people exceeding their stomachs’ capacity so much that they threw up afterwards.
Thankfully, there’s no penalty for failing to eat all of the kakiage bowl within the time limit. Instead, Fukugawa Tsuribune packages up any remaining kakiage for you to take home, something almost unheard of at restaurants in Japan.
Still, we wanted to test our mettle and see how much of it we could put away in one sitting. With less than a minute per piece, our reporter dug in and tried to maintain a brisk pace. Thankfully, Fukugawa Tsuriage’s kakiage are delicious little things, pleasantly crispy with plenty of flavor from their shrimp, and not particularly oily for this kind of food. Adding a little salt brings out the shrimp’s natural sweetness, and we also recommend a dash of bonito stock for the optimal seasoning.
As a proper donburi (rice bowl), the kakiage bowl is more than just a pile of kakiage in a bowl. Ostensibly, there’s rice underneath, although we wouldn’t see or reach any with our chopsticks until after we’d made a sizeable dent in the tempura topping it.
Kakiage is, of course solid food, though, so with all the chewing involved, eventually our reporter’s mouth started to dry out, necessitating pauses in eating progress in order to take a drink of water now and then. In the end, his one-person tally was just 11 pieces of kakiage eaten.
We felt a little guilty for having eyes so much bigger than our stomachs, though the owner consoled us by telling us not to feel bad. Finishing every last bite may be the highest compliment you can pay a chef, but we guess the sentiment does lose something if it’s followed by hurling in the bathroom. We sheepishly accepted the doggy bag containing our leftovers, went home, and didn’t have to cook dinner for a week.
Fukugawa Tsuribune / 深川つり舟
Address: Tokyo, Kunitachi City, Higashi 1-15-18, Shirano Building, 2nd floor
Hours of operation: 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. / 5 p.m. – 9 p.m.
[ Read in Japanese ]